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The rights of prisoners under the South African constitution : compatibility with international norms and standards.

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Prisoners' rights are human rights first. Any investigation of such rights has to have regard to that fact. In order to clearly understand the context within which prisoners' rights are provided for and protected or abused, a holistic approach is necessary. Accordingly, chapter one deals with introductory and histor ical perspectives. The magnitude of the problem under investigation is highlighted, the objectives of the study are outlined and the hypothesis is stated in these terms: The rights of prisoners under the South African Constitution are protected, observed and compare well with international norms and standards. A brief indication of the methodology of research is given and a literature survey undertaken. The chapter also deals with definitions and classifications wherein prisons and prisoners are defined and classified. An overview of the various justifications (purposes) of imprisonment is given and the chapter concludes with a survey of the origins and history of prisons and prisoners ' rights. As with all other human rights, the protection of prisoners' rights takes place at two levels: the domestic and the international level. A study of prisoners' constitutional rights necessitates a basic understanding of certain aspects of international human rights law. Chapter two begins with an overview of international protection of human rights and proceeds to explain how international human rights norms can be enforced in domestic law. The larger part of the chapter is dedicated to the law governing international human rights protection for prisoners . The instruments providing for such protection are outlined and discussed. The application and interpretation of such instruments are also examined. It is then concluded that, in spite of the problems inherent in the enforcement of human rights standards through international mechanisms, international law plays an important role in the protection of prisoners' rights. Chapter three provides a detailed discussion of the rights of prisoners as provided for under section 35 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (Act 108 of 1996). The discussion is enhanced and reinforced with case law illustrating the approach taken by the courts in interpreting and applying the said rights. Other constitutional rights relevant to prisoners are also discussed together with the pertinent case law. It is then concluded that the introduction of a Bill of Rights in the Constitution has brought a new dimension and challenge to the protection and realisation of prisoners' rights in South Africa. It is also concluded that the courts, especially the Constitutional Court, have risen to the challenge in attempting to give some effect and meaning to the rights of prisoners brought about by the new constitutional order. In an effort to place South Africa in a regional context, chapter four adopts a comparative approach. The rights of prisoners in various African countries are discussed. The countries include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Uganda. Prisoners' rights under the constitutions of each country are first outlined. This is followed by a discussion of the approaches taken by the courts in interpreting those rights and then the views of observers regarding the protection of prisoners' rights in those countries are outlined. The conclusion is that at least on paper and in terms of judicial practice, the rights of prisoners in South Africa enjoy more constitutional protection than in other African countries. The focus of chapter five is on the investigation regarding the extent to which prisoners' rights in South Africa are implemented and protected in actual practice. The chapter contains an analysis of the statistical data obtained through field study based on prisoners' perceptions of the realization of their constitutional rights. In analysing the data, statistical illustrations are used. Statistical methods are also used in testing the hypothesis. The main conclusion of the study is that the constitutional rights of prisoners in South Africa are not sufficiently protected and implemented. This and other conclusions and recommendations are set out in chapter six. The thrust of the conclusions and recommendations is that something has to be done regarding police brutality, prison conditions and overcrowding, juvenile offenders, mentally ill prisoners , ratification and incorporation of relevant international human rights instruments and access to courts. Suggestions on how to address these issues are made. Other recommendations include abolishing the privilege system in prisons, increasing the role of NGO's, provision of education and public awareness, privatization of prisons and legislative intervention .


Thesis (LL.D.)-University of Durban-Westville, 2001.


Prisoners--South Africa--Legal status, laws, etc., Theses--Law.